Gardner Canyon with a Group

During the mid to late 1990’s


Free range naturism doesn’t always have to be so solo. There are social alternatives to a resort. There are ways to gather like-minded friends, especially in these days of internet.

Back in the 1990’s, I was part of a group called The Southern Arizona Naturist Society (SANS, French for without). It was a non-landed naturist’s club. It was there to promote Naturism, give people a chance to experience, or try social nudity, and to have some fun and camaraderie. Each month, a member would host a house party, and each month a camp-out was arranged.

A group of the regulars would find places on Federal Lands to have the camping events. A rapport was developed with the local Forest Service. We would let them know our intentions and then we would claim a safe area by posting warning signs, “Notice: You may encounter nude activities ahead.”  Frequency of contact and a good presentation of us as law abiding, considerate, friendly, respectful people made a big difference.

As my memory serves me, one memorable weekend was had at Gardner Canyon on the eastern side of the Santa Rita Mountains. To get there, the road to Sonoita comes out of the desert and into a higher desert grassland. There are cattle grazing throughout. The government contracts with local ranchers to make business use out of public lands.

A not very discernible dirt road turns off toward the Santa Rita Mountains and Gardner Canyon. It is ranch land, where a few mesquite trees dot the rolling hills.

This road continues back to where it begins to meet with taller trees and a riparian area. This is where we decided to camp.

There was not much water at this time, we brought our own beverages. There were a couple of RV’s and mostly tents scattered around under the trees.

We had the central fire pit and potluck area.

The thing with a nude club is that there are the newbies and then the long-timers who have known each other for years. Often, there is one commonality, the desire to be safely naked. This conversation topic can go a long way. After that, being clothes free, there are fewer distinguishing characteristics to identify commonality. Someone has a beer, so beer is in common. Hairstyle, accent, type of car or tent, might give clues, or mislead. After all, camping people tend to just bring their camping selves and often leave the rest behind. At house parties cars are outside in the street. Here, in the tooleys, who knows what the other car might be. In short fishing social commonality can be difficult, as naked strangers. On the other hand it is a relief and a bond to gather nude, with fewer airs and identities to throw out and make for role play.

We told jokes around the fire, a little “No Shit there I was.” Camping has a way of bringing about tales of nature. Sometimes, an instrument like a guitar is brought out. Some like to fall asleep in peace early, some might be up drinking and have a slow mournful start in the morning. We did all of this.

Naked, bottom-free, top-free, barefoot and a variety of boots, we dressed as we desired. The sign with a bar in a red circle protected us.

DF Walks in the Woods 20 Years Later

There was one disturbance, however. This area was so close to the border and remote, that it was often used by smugglers. In those years, people walking and mules packed with pot were most common.

A border patrol agent drove through our camp, obviously entertained by us. They pegged the players of the game of illegal activity as dangerous. We took the warning, “Yup, armed desperadoes roaming the woods might descend on us and murder us in our sleep, rape our women and smuggle the children back to Mexico into slavery.”  Generally, a smuggler has one purpose in mind, to sneak unseen from safe place to safe place and make a profit. They don’t want to be noticed, they are not looking for trouble, they are not ruling the back country. They are often nice people who make a living from the desperation created from an artificial boundary. It is a game played by those of law and those who take advantage of the artificial opportunity that has been created by the law. Kubla Khan wouldn’t fit in with the crowd. Remember, these were the old days. The law enforcers were making artificial imaginings to justify themselves and scare people off.

They drove through our camp. Their manipulative tactics in hopes of keeping people off of their own public lands were a failure. It did have affect, but we were safe in our numbers. We were Arizonans with a sense of freedom and individuality, so some of us were armed. The group originally feeling disturbed, was able to think through to the reality, after a thorough discussion. After that, we were able to walk into the dark of the evening to bushes with flashlights.

When most of us had turned in, there was a grand disturbance coming from up in the hills. Sirens and flashing lights soon came banging down the crappy old road. A Border Patrol truck raced through the middle of camp, creating a cloud of dust and being as obnoxious as possible. I could see this all through the wall of my tent. We all woke up, got up and came out. When the dust settled, it was soon apparent that it was just a ruse. Another sick rude game being played to scare us off. They didn’t want the clutter around while they “do their jobs.” On the other hand, maybe it was some excitement for two guys sitting alone in the mountains in the dark with nothing to do.

Some of us became more determined to stay. We took it as a message, that if they have nothing better to do, then there is no one doing illegal things.



We did what chores a regular camping regimen might consist of and relaxed, until someone called for a hike. We were all ages. The oldest one was probably in better shape. Of the group, eight or ten of us took off down the road into the mountains with no back up clothing. We were a majority; we had posted signage and had permission. We had disturbed no one this weekend. There was no use for clothing on this very pleasant day.

This naked stroll was a great social affair, but at least two of us were more naturalist naturist. We knew that we would see no wildlife with all of the talking. We also knew that we would know no peaceful silence, or hear nature, the birds, or anybody else. So, the aforementioned elder and me took off at a more brisk pace. He in his seventies had an extensive background in nature. I always enjoyed him. At his age he was a nude art model at the University of Arizona. Between us, we began to make wonderful discoveries. We would surmise what was what. We debated which was the local Poison Ivy strain, and shared anecdotal whispers about what we were seeing.

DF on the Trail that We Walked as a Group.

We had deer staring at us, two odd creatures. Like a deer in headlights, we probably didn’t look human to them.

The trail thinned out, the creek began to run. The trees became larger and more plentiful. It was a shared and truly naturist’s experience.

A Recognizable Landmark Today

We followed the gentle stream up into the forest, walking on a carpet of fallen leaves, until we came upon a barbed wire fence. We stopped there. Not because of the fence and its danger to two nude bodies, but the disappointing sight beyond. Like night and day, the area beyond was devastated. The creek was mashed in at its banks and clouded by the mud. It had the smell of fresh cow paddies. Small plants, which had peppered the area giving us joy, had been ripped by the roots. Those local ranchers just didn’t care. We wondered why the downstream wasn’t as thoroughly contaminated. We went back to a pleasant area to sit.

The Fence Today. After Flooding and Erosion

Our cohort caught up to us. We two got the ire of them, when we told them how fun it was to see the animals. They hadn’t, of course, seen any. We all agreed how disdainful, disrespectful and destructive the use of public lands by ranchers was.

My pal and I went ahead and had a pleasant walk back.

Sunday, one by one, we packed up, cleaned up, and left our campsite in a better condition.


I recently went back to this area with DF, after twenty years. The plan was to get photos for this story and explore, have some fun, maybe check out another section of the Arizona Trail. That story will follow this one, next week.

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